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Skoda Fabia vs Volkswagen Polo: 2023 twin test review

Both these superminis pack great refinement, space and tech into a solid package – but which is best?

As you’d expect from a pair of cars that share the same underpinnings – in this case, the VW Group’s MQB-A0 architecture – there are a lot of similarities between this pair. However, that’s no bad thing, because both have plenty of star quality. 

At a time when some brands are throttling back on the supermini sector, the Polo and Fabia make us question why many buyers would need anything larger or more complex. Here we have a pair of cars that measure barely over four metres long, yet pack an impressive amount of refinement, space and tech into safe and solid packages. 

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Indeed, in a still hotly contested class, when it comes to the first of those qualities, these two examples are the best of all. There was a time when we’d be worn out just by the thought of undertaking a long motorway slog in a supermini. However, the Polo feels barely any less grown up than the larger Golf when it comes to road noise, suspension compliance and high-speed stability. Surprisingly for a car that’s designed to be at its best in the urban jungle, its motorway comfort is one of its most impressive attributes. 

The Fabia is pretty much on a par when it comes to refinement, though. Its suspension is softer, too; not that the Polo’s is harsh – far from it, in fact – but the Skoda’s even more relaxed setting means that it’s a soothing place to be. This is most obviously felt around town, where the Fabia is the most forgiving car in the sector. 

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For the most part, the pair share the same powertrains. There are several variations of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine available, either with a turbo (making 94bhp or 108bhp) or without (79bhp). Depending on power output and trim level, the motors are paired with either a five or six-speed manual, or a seven-speed DSG auto

One thing that slightly lets the side down for the VW, however, is its cabin. While there’s no faulting the finish – once again, the way its interior feels would make you question whether you’re really sitting in a supermini – there are some questionable ergonomic decisions. The heater panel is a touch-sensitive unit that is very fiddly to use. At least the base Life trim keeps the simple, functional rotary dials instead. 

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The Fabia gets physical controls across the range and the rest of the cabin is great, too. Which design you prefer will come down to personal preference, but the Skoda gives away nothing to the VW when it comes to material quality. It’s more spacious as well, with slightly more kneeroom for passengers in the back and also a larger boot. The Polo’s 351-litre load volume is still impressive for this class, yet the Fabia’s 380 litres is excellent.

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Across the board, then, the Skoda manages to match or even slightly edge the VW. Take the finance figures into account, and it looks even more compelling. Place a £5,000 deposit on a Fabia SE L, and over a three-year PCP agreement with a 10,000-mile annual limit, it’ll cost you £245 per month. 

Match those terms to a Polo Style, and it’ll cost £265. And that’s with the Skoda’s more powerful engine, too; it comes with the 108bhp 1.0 TSI and six-speed manual, while that monthly figure gets you a VW with 94bhp and a five-speed gearbox. 

Both have 16-inch alloys, LED headlights, sat-nav and rear parking sensors. However, the Polo’s extras include front parking sensors and adaptive cruise control – the Fabia SE L gets regular cruise control.

Results

Which car comes out on top?

Winner: Skoda Fabia

As an overall package, the Fabia beats not only the Polo but pretty much any other rival, too. Class-leading comfort and space are backed up by a smart cabin, impressive refinement and decent performance. When the finance prices are right, it’s virtually impossible to overlook.

Pros

Cons

Well finished cabin is spacious in both front and rear

Not the most fun to drive

Strong value for money

Clunky DSG models

Runner up: Volkswagen Polo

The Polo has long been viewed as a supermini benchmark – rightly so – and its second place here isn’t a sign that its standards are slipping; instead, the Fabia really is that good. The VW is a car with few flaws, but its rival is even more spacious and slightly more comfortable.

Pros

Cons

Styling inside and out

Fiddly climate-control panel on higher trim levels

Refinement

A little too pricey

Figures

 

Skoda Fabia 1.5 TSI Monte Carlo

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI Life

On-the-road price

£24,700

£21,010

Powertrain

4cyl in-line turbo petrol, 1,498cc

3cyl in-line turbo, petrol, 999cc

Power/torque

148bhp/250Nm

94bhp/175Nm

Transmission

7-spd auto/fwd

5-spd man/fwd

Length/wheelbase

4,108/2,552mm

4,074/2,552mm

Height/width

1,479/1,780mm

1,451/1,751mm

Boot capacity (seats up/down)

380/1,190 litres

351/1,165 litres

Kerbweight/payload

1,226/444kg

1,168/452kg

Turning circle/spare wheel

10.4 metres/£335 (pack)

10.6 metres/£110

Basic warranty (miles)/recovery

3yrs (60,000)/3yrs

3yrs (60,000)/1yr

NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars

85/81/70/71/5 (2021)

96/85/76/59/5 (2017)

0-62mph/top speed

8.0 secs/139mph

10.8 seconds/116mph

WLTP economy/range

46.3mpg/407 miles

54.3mpg/478 miles

Claimed CO2/tax bracket

137g/km/32%

118g/km/28%

Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera

6/3/rear/£690 (pack)

7/3/rear/£285

Lane assist/blindspot/AEB

Yes/no/yes

Yes/£930 (pack)/yes

Climate control/cruise control

Yes/yes

£480/yes

Leather/heated seats/met paint

No/£620 (pack)/£0

No/£330/£655

DAB/connected services

Yes/yes

Yes/yes

Sat-nav/digital dash

Yes/yes

Yes/yes

Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android

£550 (pack)/yes/yes

£120/yes/yes

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Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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